Andrew Meldrum’s book: Where we have hope, is a good read. It is fast paced, entertaining and intriguing. But after going through the 272-page book, I didn’t really know what to make of it.
The question I kept asking myself was: who is the “we” in Where we have hope? Is it foreign journalists, locals, Movement for Democratic Change supporters, ordinary Zimbabweans, or supporters of ZANU-PF?
The more I thought about it, the less I saw the so-called hope. According to Meldrum Zimbabwe has no hope under Mugabe or ZANU-PF. Its only hope lies in a “democratic” government, led by Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC.
As a Zimbabwean journalist who has been writing for 30 years, at least five of them prior to independence, I could not help notice the bias that, in my humble opinion, has destroyed the MDC, a party that came onto the political scene with a lot of promise but has been put off track by people who misread Zimbabwean politics and want to take credit for the party’s success, when its success was spontaneous.
This may be difficult to swallow but the truth is that the MDC rode on Mugabe’s unpopularity rather than on its own popularity. Tsvangirai and the MDC deserve credit for forming the party and standing up to concerted attacks on their party and on their persons, but most of the credit should go to ordinary Zimbabweans, most of whom wanted Mugabe out but did not necessarily support the MDC.
This is the majority that no one wants to acknowledge because politics in Zimbabwe has been reduced to two options. Either you are with Mugabe or with Tsvangirai. There is no middle ground. Yet more than 60 percent of Zimbabweans do not support either party. They look at what each party has to offer at election time.
Where we have hope seems to have been written retrospectively, that is starting from the present going backwards. This gives the impression that Mugabe has been a tyrant or dictator from the word go.
Mugabe has overstayed his welcome but he had brilliant ideas at independence, though these were abandoned or half-heartedly implemented later. He introduced a leadership code to keep a check on his ministers. He even suggested that party leaders should not be over 60 years, but all this was thrown aside as power corrupted him and his lieutenants deified him.
Meldrum glosses over Tsvangirai and the MDC as if they are saints while Mugabe and ZANU-PF are the devils. This is far from the truth. Though the MDC and Tsvangirai came on with a bang, they seem to have lost steam largely because of lack of a clear strategy of what they intend to do if they take over.
All they promised was change, but they did not state what type of change that would be. In fact, the MDC has tended to follow Mugabe’s or ZANU-PF’s agenda by reacting to what Mugabe says or does rather than setting their own agenda.
Meldrum also dramatises the differences between the Ndebele and Shona, a theme that has been played for decades by colonial regimes and the West to fuel divisions among the indigenous people. He even distorts some historical facts. For example, he claims that Enos Nkala, a Ndebele, remained in Mugabe’s cabinet when ZAPU members were sacked from Mugabe’s government in the 1980s.
Though a Ndebele, Nkala was only a member of ZAPU when people like Ndabaningi Sithole and Robert Mugabe were also members of the party, that is, before the formation of ZANU in 1963. He was a founder member of ZANU and never crossed sides even after being sacked after the Willowvale Motor scandal in the late 1980s.
The same applies to Nkomo’s ZAPU. It was not a party for the Ndebele only. It included Shonas in the top leadership like James Chikerema, Josiah Chinamano who was Nkomo’s deputy, Joseph Msika, Willie Musarurwa, and Daniel Madzimbamuto, just to name a few.
Meldrum also downplays the significance of the land issue in Zimbabwe’s downfall and prefers to attribute it wholly to economic mismanagement. While Mugabe’s administration is undoubtedly corrupt and has mismanaged the economy, there are other factors that speeded up the decline.
Up to 1997 whites, for example, particularly farmers, controlled more than 90 percent of the economy. It was after Mugabe’s nationwide campaign in October 1997 during which he insisted that his government was going to take away land from white farmers but would not pay compensation unless Britain or the United States provided the money, that the market and dollar crashed on Friday, November 14, 1997.
To attribute the crash to the awarding of unbudgeted pensions to war veterans is stretching things a bit too far. First the proposed pensions were announced in August and were only gazetted in December. Besides, they only amounted to $4 billion, yet banks stood to lose $38 billion, about half of the country’s gross domestic product at the time, if the government seized white-owned farms.
Meldrum also applies the same style of reasoning when he talks about the rigging of the 2000 elections. According to Medlrum, a poll, “expertly conducted” by the Helen Suzman Foundation showed that 70 percent of those polled indicated they wanted change. “The poll also suggested that the parliamentary elections had been rigged,” he says.
While ZANU-PF may have rigged the elections, linking the poll and the election results is being rather mischievous, if not misleading, because the poll was conducted in February, at the time of the referendum that rejected the new constitution, and was published in March 2000. The elections were conducted in June. The poll results were, however, only made public after the election results.
But Andrew Medlrum is absolutely right about two key issues, that of gays and race. The gay issue was sparked off in 1995 when a then unknown organisation called GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) obtained a stand to exhibit at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, one of the largest book shows in Africa. President Mugabe said there would be nothing of the sort and went on to describe homosexuals as “worse than pigs and dogs”.
Meldrum says: “The anti-homosexual crusade changed the international community’s perception of Mugabe. Until then he had been viewed rather favourably, despite the Matabeleland massacres. But at that point the scales tipped and from then on Mugabe was widely seen as a vicious despot, especially by the Western press.”
Nothing could be truer. In fact, it is strongly believed that some of the journalists who are very critical of Mugabe, though some are married, are gay. Their attacks on Mugabe are therefore personal.
Meldrum is also right about the bias towards whites when covering Zimbabwean events. When 16 white members of a white charismatic Christian sect were killed by “dissidents” near Esigodini in Matabeleland South in 1987, the story made world headlines.
“The anti-government dissidents had killed some six hundred people(black) but it was the deaths of seventy or so whites that garnered the most headlines” Meldrum writes. This has been the pattern throughout when reporting about Zimbabwe.
ZAPU supporters were killed during the 1985 elections, with some even being dragged from a police station, but the elections were declared free and fair.
The same applied to the 1990 elections where former Gweru mayor Patrick Kombayi nearly lost his life after being shot by people believed to be linked to vice-President Simon Muzenda, but they were declared free and fair.
It was only after the attacks on white farmers in 2000, rather than the emergence of the MDC, that elections were said not to be free and fair.
The sad thing is that even black reporters at the new independent papers like the Daily News also trivialised the deaths of blacks, most of whom were never identified yet almost every white killed was identified by name.
Though one might not agree with Meldrum’s assessment of the Zimbabwe situation, his book is thought provoking.